Seven Interview Errors

  1. If you use a resume writer don’t use one who was recommended by a colleague in the same field.  One day, while looking for a director of Marketing for a janitorial services company, I received three resumes, from graduates of the same B-School, all with the identical format and structure.  It was clear that the same person had prepared all three resumes.  If a marketer cannot market herself, how is she supposed to convince me, or my client, that she can market them?
  2. Just because it is an e-mail does not mean that it is not a business letter.  While in most cases this pertains to junior-level candidates, there have also been seasoned professionals who just don’t get it.  The way you represent yourself is exactly the way you will represent your employer.  When I receive, via e-mail, a resume and the accompanying e-mail is blank (not a blessed word!), only has on it “Please call,” or was clearly never proofread, the sender comes across as an amateur not a professional.  No one hires amateurs.
  3. A candidate shows up a few minutes early for an interview, is dressed professionally, no perfume/cologne, shakes hands firmly, smiles, says all the right things as far as the pleasantries are concerned, sits down and can’t give a straight answer to a straight question.  I actually had a client call me, following an interview with a lead candidate, who told me that she could not hire the woman because she didn’t stop talking.  No one wants to hire the person who, at a staff meeting, is going to talk endlessly without saying anything, taking forever to get to the point.  Get to the point!  If you don’t do it in an interview, you won’t do it in meetings.
  4. Misunderstanding technology.  It’s called “social media” for a reason.  You are socializing.  Yes, the local bakery will tweet its customers announcing that the pastries have just come out of the oven and, literally, get them while their hot!  But candidates are looking for jobs not baked goods.  Yes, the best way to find a job is through networking and Twitter and Facebook were made for networking.  But your real friends already know that you are looking and your social media contacts, who don’t know you, are not going to recommend you because of a tweet.  When someone tells me that their major networking is being done on-line, it’s a problem.  (The exception is LinkedIn.  It’s a professional networking site, not a social networking site.)
  5. Thank you notes for being interviewed are a requirement and can be deadly.  Two candidates, whose references I was in the middle of checking, lost job offers because they sent my clients (two different clients) e-mails, thanking them for the interviews, saying all the correct things, but with a plethora of typographical, spelling and grammatical errors.  If you are sloppy personally, you are sloppy professionally.  No one hires a slop!
  6. I am always amazed that people know not to bring up salary but they have no idea that they should keep their personal lives out of job interviews.  That’s because they forget where they are.  No matter how nice the interviewer is, she is not your friend.  She has a job to do.  She’s trying to find out why she should not recommend you for a job.  If a candidate starts complaining about her spouse, children or in-laws, she’s toast.  Keep your private life private and your professional life professional.  If a candidate has a real issue, a special-needs child or a parent with Alzheimer’s, that’s one thing and something that needs to be raised.  However, if the candidate is frustrated because hubby won’t clean up after himself, that’s an entirely different matter.  For example, one client wanted to make it clear that they had a small office, everyone sat in the same room, so desks had to be orderly and no one wore perfume. When it was raised, the candidate said, “Oh, I’m very neat.  I wish my husband were!  A don’t worry about perfume, I only wear a dab and everyone likes it!”
  7. Which brings me to my last point: LISTEN!  The client said “no perfume.”  “No perfume” mean “no perfume,” not “a dab of perfume is fine.”  When candidates don’t listen, when they interrupt, they don’t get invited back.  Period.  Ever.
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Ah…Unions!

Across the street from my office building in mid-town Manhattan is a building that is being renovated.  Every so often the union shows up to protest the fact that non-union labor is doing the work.  This week there were two demonstrations.  Additionally, as I was walking over to a Chamber of Commerce event, I passed another union demonstration.  This got me thinking…

Let’s just say that I have a search for a CEO.  And let’s assume that I submit eight candidates.  Obviously, seven are not going to get the job.  Why don’t those seven (OK, they don’t know each other but, come on, don’t break my train of thought!  Don’t let facts and logic get in the way of a perfectly valid argument!) get together, form a picket line, and protest that they were not hired?  It’s not as stupid a question as you might think.

Here’s the scenario.  Joe buys a building on West 36th Street.  It needs to be renovated.  He puts out a bid.  Contractors respond.  He chooses the best bid for him which happens to be non-union.  The union has a perfect right to be disappointed, but if they protest the implication is that they feel they are entitled to the work.  There is no such entitlement.  This is a free country.  Anyone can hire anyone to do anything that they want – as long as the “anything” is not illegal and the “anyone” chosen was chosen on a non-discriminatory basis.

I have been involved with a number of building/construction/renovation projects, as well as having worked at a union shop (a nursing home in the Bronx).  I have never heard anyone ever use the word “quality” to describe unions.  The only thing I have ever heard anyone say is, “It’s not worth the fight.”  In other words, unions apparently bully their way into companies and non-profits.

Let me tell you my personal union stories.  At the nursing home we had a community services organization offering, among other things, case management services and a Meals-on-Wheels program.  I liked our union staff.  We got along very well.  No doubt this was because I did not supervise any union people.  Because I did not have to deal with their nonsense, I was immune from their actions.  One day I saw some of the organizers and union workers in the lobby.  I was aware of the fact that for a couple of weeks, almost daily, they were filing frivolous grievances (all rejected) against managers.  I went over to them and said, “You guys owe me an apology!  I’m part of senior staff!  I’m a manager!  How do you think it makes me feel that you’re filing complaints against everyone else but me?  I want a complaint filed, I want a hearing, I want everyone to show up (they would attend meetings as a group!) and I expect you to provide a nice lunch… and it better be kosher!”  They all laughed and I think I got my message across.  They were good people acting like babies.  And they knew it.

A few weeks later negotiations began on a new contract (thus the grievances…).  I walked by the board room where the negotiations were being held.  The door opened and out came smiling faces.  “Bruce!  We won!  We got a 15% raise!”  (To be honest, I don’t remember if it was 15%, but it was high.)  To which I responded, “Congratulations!  But just one question: You all work on programs funded by the City.  The contracts are up for renewal.  Our biggest  competitor is non-union.  Their staff is probably going to get a 3% raise.  Our bids for the new contracts will probably be rejected because now we are not competitive.  So tell me, where are you going to be working?”

They all looked at me, still smiling,  and assured me that I did not know what I was talking about.  Of course, I did…

First to go was Meals-on-Wheels.  Now here’s the interesting thing: With unions, it’s last in first out.  So not all of the Meals-on-Wheels staff were laid off.  Some of the case management people lost their jobs and  the (now former) Meals-on-Wheels people who were remaining had to be trained for case management positions.  But soon that contract was also lost.  The union got them their raise, and cost them their jobs!

At my previous consulting firm a woman came into the office.  She met with the firm’s president.  I was passing by his office and he called me in.  He introduced me to the woman, handed me her resume and said, “She’s having a problem getting a job and doesn’t know why.”  I looked at the resume, noted that she was in financial services, look at her and said, “You’re kidding, right?”  She said, “What?”  “You don’t understand why you can’t get a job?”  She replied, “No.  I don’t.  I’m very good at what I do.”  “I believe you,” I assured her.  “But who wants to hire a union organizer?”  With a straight face she said, “What’s wrong with unions?”  She simply did not have a clue.

Draw your own conclusions!

Oh, and the reason my rejected CEOs would not picket the employer?  Simple.  They’re mature professionals…

Recession Proof Jobs II

They say that the recession is over.  Technically that may be correct.  However, from the perspective of the individual – and there are still millions of them – who can’t find work, technicalities are not important.

I recently appeared on the Dream Job Radio program talking about this very subject.  If you were not able to listen, or don’t know have the time, here are the highlights…and a few additions:

Recession proof jobs are jobs that are needed despite the economy.  It does not matter how bad things are, most people are still going to use their dry cleaner and take the family out for a nice dinner, maybe not as often as before, but it will be a regular event.  In-home entertainment is cheaper than going out to the movies, and everyone – especially someone who is stressed-out from unemployment, is going to want, needs, a little down-time.  And, of course, you still need your physician, attorney and accountant.

But recessions also, and ironically, provide opportunities for expansion.  The most successful companies actually expand their activities during a recession.  When times are good and something breaks, we buy new.  When times are bad, we get things repaired.  It can be anything from a refrigerator to a car.  Repair, not replace, is the sign of bad times – or good times if you are the one making the repairs!

Another example is continuing education.  When you are unemployed, and it’s a buyer’s market – meaning few jobs a hordes of applicants – the best know that they have to better themselves.  And the only way to do that is to enlarge and update your skills.  I am not talking about getting a college degree.   I am talking about going to a trade school and taking a six-week course on learning Microsoft Office, data entry, QuickBooks, whatever.

But since we are on the topic of education, a lot of people will tell you that a college degree is important for you career.  Nonsense!  Don’t believe it for a minute.  I have a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. and I tell you categorically that having a college degree is NOT important.  It’s CRITICAL!  The September 2010 unemployment statistics put out by the US Department of Labor are indicative of what has been happening throughout the recession.  The unemployment rate for 25-year olds without high school diplomas is 15.4%; 10% for high school graduates with no college; 9.1% for persons with some college or an Associate degree; and 4.4% for college graduates.  Any questions?

According to the September 10 issue of Inc. Magazine, the sectors producing the most jobs are government; business products and services; consumer products and services; IT services; advertising and marketing; health, software, financial services, telecommunications, and real estate.  “Government” is a reflection on the census, now over, and Obama policies which may be ending in a few weeks…

The funny thing is that a recession is a good time to be unemployed.  Why?  In good times employers are hesitant to hire people who are unemployed.  During a recession, it’s not a big deal.  It’s almost expected!  Moreover, a candidate can show a prospective employer what he or she is made of.  Too many unemployed sit around the house, watching television, collecting unemployment and feeling sorry for themselves.  The good ones do something.  They take on consulting or other short-term assignments.  They go to school to learn new skills and update the ones they have.  They make their job search their full-time job!  All of this sends positive messages about a candidate’s character and work ethic to the prospective employer.

If everyone keeps that in mind, maybe the recession will really be over!

Starting an Interview the Right Way

Some people believe, and I think I am basing this on Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, that in the first 3 seconds of meeting someone you know pretty much everything you need to know about them.  Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but there is a lot of truth to the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

One of the things I hate, and I don’t know why, is when someone shows up to an interview holding a cup of coffee.  It bothers me.  A gentleman came with a danish along with his coffee.  He was toast.  I was going to give him the bum’s rush.  We sat down and he said, “I apologize for the coffee and danish.  I’m diabetic and have to eat something.”  “No problem,” I said with a look of sincere appreciation for his plight.  We had a good half hour chat and I submitted him to my client.

But in case you don’t have a good excuse for a bad move, here a few things to do in the first few seconds:

First, give the person a firm handshake.  I interview a lot of veterans.  One day I thought I had the entire Marine Corps in my office.  After a while I was actually scared to shake hands with them!  I was in pain.  So finally I said, “Firm hand shake good.  Break interviewer’s hand, bad.”  They all laughed.

Second, make eye contact, smile, introduce yourself, and thank the person for meeting with you.

And here’s how to start the conversation.  It works for me, but it has to be genuine.  Don’t lie or fake it.  And only use it once.  If you use this when you meet the HR director and then the CEO, and either one mentions it to the other, you will lose all credibility.

You walk into the interviewer’s office, look around out of the corner of your eyes (never look away from the interviewer!)  and shake hands at the same time.  (In the word of the con artist, it’s called “reading the room.”)  You then look at an object in the office and smile as though you are remembering something.  The interviewer may ask something like, “Why are you smiling?” or just smile and say “What?” Then you reply, “Oh, it’s not important.  I just saw the whatever and it reminded me when I…”  Don’t go into any details.  Don’t say more than a few words.  And then smile and say, “But I digress.”  That way you have established a personal tie to the interviewer, made it seem not to be your intent (Don’t worry, the interviewer knows what you are doing!) and you have also shown that you can separate personal from professional and get down to business.  (If the interviewer does not ask about the smile, just get down to business.)

Of course, if after you have done this, in the next interview you walk into a different person’s office and something blatant jumps out at you – their diploma shows that you graduated from the same college – then there is nothing wrong in saying, “Oh, you are a … too.”   Then let the interviewer take the lead.   The difference is that in this case there is no acting.  Again, in neither case should there be any lying.  And in both cases, you hand over to the interviewer the impetus for turning the initial comment into a conversation.

How to Relax Before Making a Speech

Some people can get up and speak before 500 strangers and not give it a second thought, but they would rather have root canal without anesthesia than introduce themselves to a stranger at a cocktail party.  And, of course, the opposite is also sometimes the case – probably more so!  It is to those individuals that I offer a couple of tricks and a few games:

Two tricks:

Tip #1    The morning of the speech take an extra long shower and go over the presentation in your mind.  That way, you’ll not only know that you can do it but that you can make the speech without notes.  Since you’ll actually have the notes with you when you make the speech, you’ll be psychologically in a better place.

Tip #2    Start a conversation with someone just prior to starting the speech.  Have the speech be a continuation of that conversation.  Look at that individual with whom you had be chatting until you become calm – but only for the first few seconds, otherwise it just looks weird!

Three mind games:

Tip #3    Remember this:  Before every performance Lawrence Olivier and Red Skeleton would both lose their lunch, hug the porcelain, or whatever other phrase you don’t find offensive.  If arguably the world’s greatest actor, who once played Hamlet in the afternoon and Othello in the evening, and perhaps the greatest clown of all time, could go on stage and do what they did despite chronic stage fright, who are you to be nervous?

Tip #4  Remember this:  The majority of the people who will be looking at you would rather lose a limb than be standing in your shoes. They’re a bunch of cowards!  You’re the brave one!

Tip #5  Remember this:  You’re the expert.  All those people who you are so afraid of have come to hear what you have to say.  You haven’t come to hear them!

Now, in case you are worried about some jerk asking you a stupid question, here’s the perfect answer:

You know, Mother Teresa once said,”If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish motives; be kind anyway.  If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway.  If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.  What you spend years building someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.”

Most people will think you a profound.  The jerk won’t have a clue what you are talking about.  And if he shouts out from the audience, “What’s that supposed to me?”  Smile and say, “I’m sure once you think about it, you’ll understand.”

What’s he going to do, argue…with Mother Teresa?!

How Do You Know if Your New Hire is Going to Leave When the Economy Improves?

How can an employer tell if a new hire, in this market, is going to leave?

Here’s the scenario:  The hire has accepted your offer even though it represents a cut in salary.  Once the economy picks up, you figure he will start looking for a new job that will bring him back to his old salary.  The hire says all the right things.  Should you take the risk?

I have had to face this issue on a fairly regular basis.  This is especially true when the client is a non-profit  and they are willing to accept candidates from the corporate sector who have been laid off as a result of the present economy.  When looking for an IT director for an organization dealing with spousal abuse issues, many qualified candidates were rejected, despite the fact that the client had specifically said that they wanted someone from the corporate world, because they were willing to take a significant (in most cases over $100,000, and in one case, over $200,000) cut in salary.  They simply were not believed when they said that they wanted stability and to be out of the “rat race” and would not look for a higher paying job when the economy improved.

Ironically, when I was doing a search for a director of Legal Affairs for a college, candidates were believed when they indicated their willingness to take six-figure (most in the neighborhood of $250,000) cuts in salary.  They all said that it was because they wanted “quality of life” and were fed up with working 100-hour weeks.  (One candidate said he was working 120-hour weeks.  I started to do the math in my head.  He smiled and said, “You sleep and shower in the office and go home for clean clothes.”)

So what’s the difference between the IT director and the attorney?  I believe it is because non-profit executives cannot relate to technology.  They cannot understand the stress of the IT professional’s job.  On the other hand, they fully appreciate what it means to be an attorney focused on billable hours.

I am confident that none of the IT professionals or attorneys whom I interviewed for these positions was lying.  I believed them because they passionately explained to me what they were losing in exchange for their salaries.  It is worth six-figures for them to be able to have dinner with their spouses and to attend their children’s school plays.  You can see it in their eyes when they talk about what they are missing.  One father was practically in tears when he told me that his daughter had complained that he did not read to her anymore.

The first answer to your question of whether or not to believe a candidate is, therefore, a genuine emotional response.  The second answer is the exact opposite, the rational response.  They show that they have thought the loss of salary out. They “do the math.”  These are my expenses, this is what I need for the minimum lifestyle I want, my spouse works, I can do this.

If a candidate tells me that he or she is willing to take a significant cut in salary and will not be looking for a better paying job, and proves to me that they have thought it out rationally and emotionally, I’ll advocate on their behalf.  In the case of a non-profit client, what I am not interested in is someone from the for-profit sector who talks to me about the non-profit sector in idyllic terms (no stress, less pressure, no-bottom line thinking, etc.) which only goes to show a naiveté about the sector and that they have not thought things through.

How to Deal with Resume Gaps

Whether it be the “Tube” in London or the subway in New York, the space between the station waiting area and the train can be deadly.  Figuratively speaking, the same is true for a gap in one’s resume.

Recently a nice bloke (keeping with the British theme – although I’ll keep to American spellings of the Queen’s English) came to my office to interview for a counseling position with a social service agency.  He was more than qualified and, to the best of my knowledge, is still a viable candidate for the position.  There was a two year gap on his resume.  When I asked him about it, he explained the situation:

Apparently, his sister had died.  After the funeral he went to her house.  Her son, his nephew, was there.  Some gang members showed up with a gun.  He took the gun away and tried to calm things between his nephew at the gang members.  As he was mediating, the Police arrived.  He threw the gun over a fence.  They saw him and arrested him.  He plead guilty to possession of a weapon and served two years in jail.

For the record, it is illegal to discriminate against convicts.  The philosophy is, once  you have done your time, you have done your time.  Once you have paid your debt to society, you have paid your debt to society.  You should now be able to get on with your life.

Of course, theory and practice are not always identical.  To the best of my knowledge, my candidate can never work in healthcare or finance.  No nursing homes.  No banks.  Of course, sex offenders can’t live where they may like, as with pedophiles.

For the record, again, I have no sympathy for felons.  None whatsoever.  If there were mitigating circumstances then the judge, jury, governor and president should have, would have, taken them into account.  I’ve served on two juries, both criminal cases, and I know that the system works.  We found a black man guilty of possession of stolen property.  He was caught by the Police with the jewels literally dangling from his pockets and assorted appliances at his feet, in a neighborhood that one witness described as “white.”  We all knew that his partner had thrown the loot to him from a back window.  We found him not guilty of breaking and entering.  The judge told us that the only way we could find him guilty of that charge was if the State had proven that he had been inside the house.  They hadn’t; we didn’t.  And the “we” were “12 good men and true” consisting, of men and women of every race, creed, color, religion and level of education.

The second jury was similarly composed.  And it took us two days to reach our verdict because there were a few jurors who had to be convinced.  The crime was car jacking, at gun point.  Half of us were convinced of his guilt on all 20-something counts.  Our only regret was that we could not sentence him.  Most of the others just needed to hear our logic.  But there was one woman, like the defendant Hispanic, who was willing to find him guilty on some of the lesser charges but not on the main ones.  No one of us, not even for a minute, brought race into the deliberations.  She raised legitimate points.  In turn we addressed them.  Finally she said, “But the gun was not loaded!”  Apparently, as was explained to us by a witness, when a gun is cocked there is one “click” if a bullet goes into the chamber, and two if the chamber is empty.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.  I don’t remember and, just as 10 of my fellow jurors at the time, I didn’t care then and I don’t care now!

We all responded in the same way.  So what?  Who cares?  And how could she know?  And what would it matter?  Even if the gun was empty he could have used it to beat her.  I was the last to speak.  On the table was the gun.  It had been dismantled.  There was no firing pin.  There was no bullet in it.  There was a plastic tag around the trigger.  It could not be fired.  And the County Marshals were 15 feet away in the next room.  I picked up the gun and put the barrel up against her shoulder.  (We were sitting beside each other.)  She moved away.  I put the gun back against her shoulder.  I then asked her, “You’re nervous.  You know the gun cannot be used as a weapon.  And you know the Marshals are right outside the door.  You know perfectly well that I am not going to hurt you.  And you’re nervous.  So how do you think the victim felt and what does it matter if there was one click or two?”  She was convinced and he was found guilty on all counts.

I believe in our system of justice.  Which also means that once a sentence has been served the criminal is entitled to another chance.  But how to raise the subject?

My candidate took the view that silence was, so to speak, golden.  He made no mention of it.  If I hadn’t noticed the gap he would not have said a word.  Foolish on his part.  Since he was employed at a social service agency, he should have known that the likelihood was that, prior to being offered a job the agency would require a background check.  Busted!

As the saying goes, it’s not the crime but the cover-up.  My philosophy is to tell the truth.  Just admit it.

The admission can either be in a cover letter, on a resume, or both.  I suggest both.  Go to Google images (images.google.com) and do a search for “marijuana smuggler ad toronto financial times.”  The first image shows one approach.  It’s humorous.  And he got a job.  (If I remember correctly, he also was invited on The Tonight Show!)  He hid nothing.  He was honest, so to speak.  But don’t use humor.  Use honesty.  It’s more appropriate for a cover letter or resume.  I would suggest the following:

From 2002 to 2004 I served a prison sentence for possession of a weapon.  I had taken the gun from a gang member in an effort to breakup what could have become a violent situation with my nephew following his mother’s funeral.  When the police arrived I foolishly threw the gun over a fence.  I plead guilty.  This was, if nothing else, a learning experience.  By hiring me you will be getting not only a reformed criminal but, more importantly, someone who can relate to your clients.

Granted, this would not be appropriate for someone applying for a job at a place other than a social service agency.  But the theory is still valid.  Admit what happened.  Explain it briefly (no whining).  Say what you learned and how it can benefit the employer.

Of course, the same is true for caregivers.  If you were raising children or caring for an elderly parent and were therefore out of the job market, say so, and say what you learned.  Explain what skills you developed.  Scheduling.  Multi-tasking.  Patience.  Financial oversight.  Crisis management.  All immediately come to mind and all are assets which any employer would be happy to have in a new hire.